Archive for February, 2012
The harsh reality is that bullying will probably never be eliminated in schools. Research has suggested that 15% to 20% of all students will experience bullying during their school years. The U.S. government estimates that 160,000 students are absent each day due to fear of bullies.
Bullying is generally defined as intentional, negative actions against someone with the purpose of inflicting discomfort through words, gestures, or physical actions. Bullying is a way of establishing dominance over a person that has been identified as weaker in some way to the bully or group of bullies. Bullying can be viewed as direct or indirect. Direct bullying is described as open attacks on a victim, such as physical violence, name calling, or obscene gestures. Indirect bullying can be in the form of a group of peers ignoring a person with the intent of inflicting emotional pain. A new form of bullying that is becoming more prevalent is cyber bullying. It is a form of indirect, sometimes anonymous bullying that is done on-line.
Children who are continually victimized by bullies may develop a variety of problems from poor concentration, to anxiety, to school phobia (fear of attending school). When school is not a safe place, children will learn to fear and avoid school. Experts have found that victims of bullying can develop severe problems later on in life such as depression, a negative self image, and problems relating to the opposite sex. In extreme and rare cases, victims turn on the bullies, such as the tragedies that take place in the form of revengeful school violence. Some children have difficulty dealing with witnessing bullying incidents; the child may never have been a direct victim, but the fear of becoming a victim after witnessing a bullying incident can be traumatic.
Bullying is learned, not inherited through biology. Although there is cutting edge research suggesting that some children do have abnormal levels of hormones such as cortisol, DHEA, and testosterone, these chemicals only may provide the energy for the bully to take their aggression out on victims. Children learn to be aggressive, they learn to pick on “weaker” people through parents, peers, and/or society. Bullies learn the attitude of “blaming the victim” for being weak, and sometimes, their peers encourage them to pick on weaker people. Ironically, bullies themselves are victims; Many children who are bullies were bullied themselves by parents, siblings, and/or peers. In addition, bullies learn to feel powerful when picking on children, which may very well develop into significant relationship problems later on in life. For example, an adult bully may never have learned how to relate to peers without showing force, intimidation, and/or dominance. Not surprisingly, a school bully may turn into a work place bully later on in life. Those children who are aggressive bullies are more likely to be involved in criminal activity, domestic violence, and/or substance abuse.
Reporting and identifying bullies is difficult and complex. Children may be reluctant to report incidents of bullying due to fear of direct or indirect revenge. They may fear retaliation not only from the bully, but from friends of the bully too. Younger children may not understand the difference between playfulness and bullying. Some younger children are not well adept at reading “cues” accurately, and they may naively assume another child is being playful when they are actually being malicious, or vice verse. Teachers are typically trained in identifying bullies and counselors and administrators are trained in treating the bullying behaviors. Unfortunately, identifying bullying behaviors again becomes difficult. An adult may see playful behavior where a child may misinterpret the behavior as malicious. Typically, bullying occurs when the bully believes they can get away with it; locker rooms, P.E. classes, lunch rooms, and buses are more likely places that bullying occurs. These places are more difficult to monitor by school personnel.
What can be done? Much. Parents can talk to the children about bullying and/or being bullied; Teach your child the difference between assertiveness and aggressiveness. Teach them how to be assertive to a bully, and report the bully to a teacher. Teach them not to be aggressive and not to bully other children. Parents can enroll their children in counseling with a qualified therapist that targets aggression or being a victim of aggression. Parents can give support for anti-bullying campaigns in local schools. School counselors and teachers can continue pursuing training on treating and identifying bullying (many school Bullying Prevention Programs exist today). A highly recommended technique is creating a partnership between children and teachers; a campaign against bullying, beginning with identifying what is and what is not bullying and teaching children multiple options for dealing with bullying. Bullying may never be eliminated, but with some effort it can be greatly reduced in schools.
- Bullying is an ongoing pattern of harassment and abuse. It can be done directly by physical or verbal attacks or indirectly by exclusion, spreading rumors, etc.
- Cyber-bullying is a growing problem among Middle and High School aged students. While it also occurs among College-aged students, for the most part young people have matured past cyber-bullying at that point
- Bullies seek power through aggression and direct their attacks at vulnerable victims. In-person bullies often lose their popularity in high school and have a high likelihood of having a criminal record as adults.
- Girls are more likely than boys to be cyber-bullies, due to the verbal (non physical) nature of online communication.
- Girls’ bullying is focused on social exclusion.
- 1 in 5 kids report being bullied or bullying. Every 7 minutes, a child is bullied in the school setting.
- While most teachers believe they always intervene in face-to-face bullying, only 25% of students report they have received teachers’ help when they needed it.
- Cyber-bullying is, in many ways, a larger problem than face-to face bullying, for several reasons: Adults and peers are often not in a position to intervene, and victims’ hurt is not visible as useful feedback for the bullies to experience as a “reality check.” It is far too easy for cyber-bullies to convince themselves they are merely “joking.” Some are surprised at the harm they cause, because the abuse did not feel “real.”
- Those who are bullied sometimes learn to perpetuate the problem and become bullies themselves, simultaneously or concurrently. This is the cycle of victim-perpetrator that catches so many children and adults.
- LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and intersex) youth are particularly vulnerable to bulling online and offline, due to the largely homophobic culture of mainstream America.
Online bullying is a widespread and growing phenomenon, and offline bullying has always been and continues to be a problem. Bullying of all kinds peaks in Middle School and in most cases tapers off by College age, when students are more independent and more mature. Lack of coordination among school staff, parents and students make cyber- and offline bullying a continual threat to young people’s confidence and safety.
What you can do:
If your child is bullied in person:
- Teach him/her how to walk away from the bully and how to use assertiveness training. Do not confront the bully yourself.
- Teach your child to speak up on behalf of those who are being bullied and against the bullies themselves.
- Talk with school staff about their policy on bullying and actions they are taking to make schools safe for everyone.
If your child is bullied online:
- Work with your child to block the offending users.
- Let your child know you support them.
- Meet with school staff and make a plan to combat cyber-bullying .
- If the situation is serious, talk with the police. Cyber-bullying is illegal, and in many states schools have the jurisdiction to provide consequences to bullies even if the abuse did not originate online.
Actions to take if your child is bullied online OR offline:
- Demand that the school develop a comprehensive educational policy about bullying.
- Do not settle for the school simply sending the bully and/or the bullied to talk to the school counselor.
- Support – and implement, if needed – programs and activities that teach and reward acceptance of diversity.
- If your child is LGBTQI, help them find or start a support group, such as a Gay-Straight Alliance. There is safety in numbers and this can help combat feelings of isolation. Also, importantly, cohesion among students against bullying can change the culture of a school. This is particularly true of cyber-bullying, which is easier to stop than in-person bullying.
These are some of the questions that we hear at and some of the answers we give.
1. Why does a person become stubborn?
a) Because he has staked his self-worth on the outcome of the dispute, and
b) Because he is operating out of non-rational attitudes which he is not aware of and which he cannot change.
2. Why do some people become addicts while their siblings do not?
To relieve the pain of their self-contempt while their siblings had more self-respect.
3. Why do some conversations suddenly become arguments?
Because someone took a remark more personally than it needed to be taken. He or she didn’t know how else to take it.
4. If we don’t want to be disobedient, but we’re too old to be obedient, what should we be?
Independent on the basis of our self-respect.
5. What’s wrong with wanting to prevent bad things from happening to our loved ones?
We are not fortune tellers. We cannot prevent the future. This is a good intention. It is over-control. We don’t know what is going to happen and we cannot prevent it. This attitude teaches children to feel insecure and afraid of the future. It is better to prepare children to take life as it comes and do the best they can with it.
6. What’s wrong with wanting to please people?
We do not know how they want to be pleased. We only think we know. We are not mind readers. We are using these people to validate our self-worth. It doesn’t work. Very often, our good intention to please them is counter-productive. They are not pleased at all. We can’t understand why.
7. If we shouldn’t be pleasers, should we be displeasers?
No. We can choose to live in between these extremes and do what pleases us on a mature, appropriate basis. When we choose to do what reality requires us to do, we will be more pleasing than we ever were in the old days.
8. What’s wrong with wanting people to like you?
It is a set up for endless dependency on others for our worth as a person. Self-respecting people like themselves on an appropriate basis. Their self-respect makes them more likeable to others than all the self-serving pleasingness in the world.
9. What’s wrong with being angry at wrongness?
Life is full of wrongness. We’d be angry all the time. We are not morally superior to the wrongdoer. We are imperfect human beings, too. We are standing in moral judgment, which we have no competence to do. This is how we over-compensate for our own self-doubts. Self-respecting people choose to live in the middle ground between the extremes of rightness and wrongness.
10. When is anger justified?
Valid anger doesn’t need to be justified. Invalid, inappropriate anger cannot be justified. The issue is not justification. Anger is a legitimate human emotion. It is a response to a grievance. Invalid anger arises out of mindless, mistaken roles and attitudes cannot be justified. Such attitudes have nothing to do with the requirements of the reality situation. The antidote would be to replace inappropriate anger attitudes with appropriate ones so legitimate anger can be expressed in constructive ways.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
The media is full of experts giving advice. They tell people how to be good parents, good spouses, good friends. The press is full of tips for handling our aging parents, our difficult bosses. Most of this doesn’t work. There are reasons why superficial, impersonal advice doesn’t have deep and permanent effects. These generic recommendations are based on generalities: One size fits all, lowest common denominator. But for each situation, the advisor doesn’t know:
• What the underlying issues are
• What hidden purposes are being served by the problem situation
• The state of mind of the person being advised.
• Their attitudes toward the people they are trying to relate to.
• Their attitudes towards themselves. What if their own unexamined attitudes include, “I know what’s best for everybody” or “I don’t deserve to be happy?”
It is essential to consider what is the purpose behind our reaction, what are we trying to achieve in our reaction. In doing so, we reveal choices, that we didn’t know they had. This frees us to make new choices. I encourage clients to identify appropriate risks and take them, but we don’t broadly say, “Leave him. He’s no good for you!”
Before we can begin to reveal that people have choices, we have to do some preliminary exploration. The client may know what they would like to have happen, but they can’t bring it off. We say, “They can’t get there from here.” We want to identify the impediments first so we can remove them. For example, our client, Rita, asked:
Client: “How can I get my husband to love me like he used to?”
Therapist: “What has to happen first?”
Client: “I’ve done everything I can think of.”
Therapist: “First you have to love yourself on an appropriate basis.”
Client: “How can I learn to love myself on an appropriate basis.”
Therapist: “What has to happen first?”
Client: “I don’t have a clue.”
Therapist: “You have to know who you are as a person in the world so you can stop playing carryover roles as your parent’s child, your sibling’s sibling, your husband’s wife ‘what’s her name’. A role cannot be loved by anyone, not even you. And who are you?”
Client: “I give up. Who am I?”
Therapist: “Now you’ve got it. You’ve put your foot on the first rung of the ladder.”
Client: “What did I do?”
Therapist: “That’s the first time in your life that you confronted the fact that you don’t know who you are, that you don’t have a mature, independent identity of your own. You have been sleepwalking through life, playing roles, opposite roles just like everyone else. I’ll tell you who you are. You are the one who made that statement. You told the truth about yourself. It was a choice you made when you couldn’t play your two-dimensional role any more. You saw that it wasn’t getting you anywhere. It took courage to make that admission, to let go of a lifetime of attitudes and roles that have been controlling your thoughts and behaviors from the beginning. It is to your credit that you also had the courage to call for an appointment and even more courage to show up. Lots of people never do. Does that make sense?”
Therapist: “How do you feel?”
Client: “I feel good.”
Like most of our clients, Rita started out by telling us the presenting problem that brought her into counseling. To get at the heart of the problem, we must first go back and find out what happened in the earlier scenes that set them up for the current difficulties in their lives. They didn’t get this way overnight. We have to ask more questions in order to go below the surface of the presenting problem. As Rita started to tell us about herself, she mentioned that she had wanted to get counseling years ago, but couldn’t bring herself to do it. This is a problem that is compounding all the others. We can use it as a point of entry into the galaxy of experiences, memories, hopes, and fears that make up Rita’s way of moving through life. It turns out that one of the impediments to winning back her husband’s love is that she can’t ask for help.
Before we can find out why Rita can’t ask for help, we have to put her difficulties into an appropriate perspective.
Therapist: “It sounds like you have trouble trusting others, and that includes your husband. What has to happen before you can ask for help?”
Client: “I don’t know.”
Therapist: “You have to trust the person you are asking, otherwise you can’t ask. It’s no use.”
Client: “I don’t trust very many people.”
Therapist: “Often people don’t trust because of some past betrayal. When has someone betrayed your trust?”
Client: “I’m thinking of my parents. I couldn’t count on them for anything. They weren’t there for me. They made everything worse so I gave up.”
Therapist: “What has to happen now before you can trust people?”
Client: “They have to earn my trust.”
Therapist: “That’s exactly what they cannot do. Your impediment prevents them from earning it. The impediment is that you trust them negatively, to make things worse for you instead of better. You trust them to say no in advance, so you don’t bother to ask. You are discouraged, you are afraid to try because you know you’ll be turned down.”
Client: “But they do turn me down.”
Therapist: “If you ask with the wrong music, the wrong intonation, they will turn you down. They hear it in your voice, as if you were saying, ‘You’re not going to say, “yes,” are you?’ So they fulfill your expectations. They say no. It’s as if they don’t want to disappoint your expectations by saying, yes.”
Client: “How can I get them to say yes?”
Therapist: “Do you see how you put the problem in terms of getting them to respond differently? “It’s not a matter of getting. It’s a matter of removing impediments from your past that keep you from living freely in the present.”
Client: “I don’t want people to think I’m weak and needy.”
Therapist: “That is an impediment, too. You are living on other people’s terms and not your own. You are afraid what the neighbors will think and you are trying to prevent them from thinking it. We want to find out where these negative attitudes are coming from. When else have you felt this way?”
Client: “I was 10. We went to visit my mother’s family. They had a beautiful swimming pool. It was near Disneyland! They were so happy to see me. Then my aunt asked, ‘What do you want for dinner?’ I said, ‘Pizza!’ I’d never had it before. My grandmother was horrified. Suddenly, I didn’t ask any more. What I wanted didn’t matter. I didn’t matter.”
Therapist: “You felt invalidated. Once again, you can’t win for losing. You acquired the attitude, ‘I can’t do anything right,’ You even blamed yourself for not knowing in advance what to say or do. You went from being the happy Golden Child to being worthless and unhappy. You didn’t belong anymore. You didn’t deserve to ask for what you wanted. Your memory is bringing up recollections that are relevant to the problem of getting what you want out of life. These attitudes are the impediments that are in your way. Is there something you want today that you can’t ask for?”
Client: “I want to visit my mother in Wisconsin, but my husband, Al, won’t let me. We fight a lot.”
Therapist: “What has to happen first before you can go to Wisconsin?”
Client: “I have no idea.”
Therapist: “This is new to you. It takes practice. You haven’t learned how to ask Al for what you want.”
Client: “He says it’s too far; that I might have an accident and wreck his car.”
Therapist: “Do you take his reasons at face value?”
Client: “I try to explain that I’ll be careful. I’ve never had an accident.”
Therapist: “You are trying to make Al understand as if his reasons were rational, which they are not. They are a cover story for the real reason deeper down. He doesn’t know what it is himself, so how can he be argued out of it? Tell me about your husband.”
Client: “At our wedding, he had a fight with his brother and my father had to break it up. He missed our daughter’s confirmation because of too much celebrating with his bowling team the night before. We fought for weeks. I’m still angry at him. He has ruined every vacation we ever took with a temper tantrum about some nonsense he wouldn’t let go of.”
Therapist: “Do you see a pattern in these disasters?”
Therapist: “They were all supposed to be happy occasions, and he arranged to have them end in disaster.”
Client: “Did he do it on purpose?”
Therapist: “No. He is operating out of his attitudes, just as you are operating out of yours. He is allergic to happiness, just as you are. He brings about these disasters because it hurts less if he does it to himself.”
Client: “That doesn’t make sense.”
Therapist: “That’s why you can’t make him understand the error of his ways. These are not rational thought processes, these are attitudes and they predispose his behavior without his even knowing they are down there.”
Client: “Just like me.”
Therapist: “Just like you. As I said, you are compatible with people who will confirm and perpetuate your negative expectations of life. Would it make you happy to visit your mother?”
Client: “Yes. I haven’t seen her for three years because of him.”
Therapist: “His good intention is to prevent the disaster that happens when people get too happy at weddings and confirmations. You make him happy. He’s afraid that he’ll lose you and his happiness will end in disaster. These attitudes are causing terrible anxiety. He is out of control. His good intention to over control only brings about more disaster, not less. He doesn’t know how to solve these relationship problems at all.”
Client: “What can I do?”
Therapist: “We have taken the first step. We have identified some of the most likely obstacles to your visiting your mother. You need to understand his attitudes before you can secure his cooperation. Now, you can choose to stop defending, which is your counter productive good intention to make him understand your logic. You can choose to stop doing it the old way and start doing it a new way. You can validate his concerns, his doubts, his anxieties. You can say, ‘I know how you feel when I’m away for a few days, but I’ll be fine. I’ll call you every night and you’ll tell me how everybody is doing, and I’ll be back home before you know it.’ “
Client: “It’s not about me, is it?”
Therapist: “It never was. It’s about him. He can’t give you what you want because it would cause him pain. He doesn’t even understand what is going on below the surface. You can’t make him understand logically.”
Client: “So, I’ll validate him. I know what to do now. “
Therapist: “What’s that called?”
Therapist: “Who gave you that confidence?”
Client: “ I guess I did.”
Therapist: “You guess?”
Client: “I did!”
Therapist: “Do you see why we ask so many times, ‘What has to happen first?’ We have to identify the damage so we can repair it the right way. We can’t just paper over it by telling you to be ‘strong’, or ‘stick up for yourself.’”
Client: “I could never take that advice. It only made me feel worse about myself than I did before. It proved I couldn’t trust my own judgment. There was no me here. How can I know what I want if I don’t know who I am? I know who I am now. I’m the one who made that phone call. I know what I want and I deserve to get it, no more and no less than anyone else. I am not stupid. I am smart enough. I don’t have to be any smarter than that.”
Therapist: “Do you see how all of this relates to the problem that brought you in here – to get your husband to love you again? He is allergic to showing love and affection because it might make you happy and there would be a disaster.”
Client: “He’s trying to keep things from happening, just like I did.”
Therapist: “These attitudes are all facets of our self-doubt from childhood.”
Client: “No wonder he couldn’t love me. I didn’t love myself. I didn’t even know who I was. I thought I was unlovable. My own relatives couldn’t love me. How can I turn that around?”
Therapist: “By doing your Homework, by strengthening your self-respect with each success. He cannot respect you more than you respect yourself. If you can outgrow your unhappy carryovers from the past, your lovability will increase considerably. Aren’t you glad you asked for help?”Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
How do we get rid of a lifetime of rage and grief? How do we replace our lifelong role as the Unlovable Victim with positive self-regard? How do we bridge the gap between intellectual and emotional insight? Cindy bridged all these gaps at the same time by writing her mother an anger letter. She was primed for it and the anger spilled out onto the white paper in front of her. She couldn’t keep up with it. Time stood still. She forgot where she was. Her focus was on that stream of rage pouring out of her. She wrote until she could write no more. She was sobbing, shaking, shivering all through the ordeal. When is was over, she collapsed. Who would have thought that writing a letter could rip her guts out?
How did Cindy feel after her heart stopped pounding? She felt calm, peace, serenity. She had sprung the trap, the Silent War was over. She felt relief from the tension that she hadn’t even known was there. She was no longer living on other people’s terms. She was in control, and could let go of her mistaken definitions of control. She had a feeling of identity, not a role on her mother’s terms. She felt secure within herself, not in her friends, which had never worked. She felt like an equal member of the human race, not an inferior lady-in-waiting. She stopped comparing herself unfavorably to real people who could love and be loved. She felt liberated from doubts and grief from the past. In their place there were feelings that she was now an intelligent, mature woman with the power to make constructive choices in her own behalf. Her anger was valid, and so was she!
Cindy had a feeling of accomplishment: her goal was to write an anger letter and she did! She had been through the fire. She had a feeling of success and the confidence that she could succeed again.
All of these feelings taken together make up the feeling of self-respect, which is defined as the feeling that one is a worthwhile human being in spite of one’s faults and imperfections. It doesn’t say, “Provided I am loved by another person.” There is no such provision.
After the overlay of mother anger was pulled off, Cindy became aware of her anger at herself for letting Mary, her mother get away with the abuse for so long. “Why didn’t I stand up to her? Why didn’t I smack her one? Why was I so good to her? It was all for nothing. I must have been stupid!” Cindy wrote another anger letter, this time to herself. Afterwards, she was able to see that, as a child, she had no power to let anything happen. It was a false accusation on a child’s part. It was not a matter of “Whose fault was it?” It was no ones fault. It was a matter of human imperfection. Once again she felt relief, this time from twenty years of fictitious guilt. Her pain was replaced by identity, independence, equality, control, liberation, success and peace of mind. She was working on her relationship with herself.
What does all this have to do with Cindy’s conviction that she is as unlovable now as she was twenty years ago? It has everything to do with it. Part of respecting oneself on an appropriate basis is the feeling that one is no more and no less human than anyone else. On that basis, we deserve to be happy and successful at our life tasks of love, work and friendship. The mistake is to feel we do not, and that fundamental mistake must be addressed and corrected in the right way.
Cindy has an identity now: “I am the one who made that Anger letter happen. I am not my mother’s child anymore. It took courage to undergo that pain and stick with it to the end. No one did it for me. I did it for myself.”
Cindy’s Homework has earned her the right to respect herself as a worthwhile human being. It will now be easier for her to believe that someone can love and respect her for what she is. She has learned she can trust her own competence and her own judgment. That will make it easier to trust others when they say, “I love you.” She has earned the right to expect that good things will happen to her because she isn’t a victim anymore. She has replaced her discouragement with encouragement. In view of all that she has done for herself, she has come to feel in her heart what she knew in her head: that she is no more and no less lovable than any other member of the human race.
Cindy’s next homework was to please herself for a change. That night, two friends from work dropped by unexpectedly. They were meeting their old friend Nicole at the tavern and they wanted Cindy to join them for an evening of carousing. Cindy did not care to go carousing. She wanted to take a hot bath and go to sleep. In the old days, there would have been no contest. She would have sacrificed her preferences for her friends, who didn’t seem to care what she wanted to do. For the first time in her life, Cindy had the courage to say, “No thanks, I’d rather stay home tonight. You go without me and have a good time.” They insisted. They enjoyed Cindy’s company, and who wouldn’t? She was a very Successful Pleaser. But Cindy stood her ground. This time, she had the courage of her convictions. She rode it out on her terms. After they left, she didn’t feel selfish, guilty, irresponsible or abandoned. She didn’t feel dependent on others for her life. She had herself now. She had done what pleased her! She wasn’t afraid she would be unlovable. She was learning to love herself.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Cindy was a successful advertising account executive. She was bright and creative. Everyone liked her except Amy who was competitive and didn’t like losing. Cindy didn’t compete because winning meant making an enemy of the loser. She was the opposite of competitive. She wanted everyone to be her friend. She bent over backwards to avoid giving offense. She was once accused of being too grateful. She said, “Thank you,” every two minutes. Julia made other people happy, and they let her. Yet, when they did not return the favor, she felt Good For Nothing, worthless, unloved for herself as a person in her own right.
Men liked her. That wasn’t the problem. She would go out with them, not because she enjoyed their company, but because she couldn’t bear to cause them pain by saying “No.” She was now in her thirties, and she wondered why she had never gotten married like most of her friends. She saw a pattern in the few serious relationships that she had. She worked hard at her relationships, looking for ways to please her man, being super considerate and super-thoughtful. The first six months were always blissful.
Sooner or later, though, there would be a misunderstanding about a meeting time, an offhand remark, a difference of opinion. Other couples would be able to work through these minor bumps in the road. They would talk it out, even come out of it stronger in their relationship than they were before. Cindy couldn’t do that. She did not have the internal resources with which to bounce back from even minor unpleasantness. Three weeks later, there would be another misstep, then two weeks, then four days, then, it seemed, every ten minutes. Cindy would be the one to break it off. Not directly in a face-to-face confrontation. That would be intolerably displeasing. She just stopped returning his phone messages. She’d go to Minnesota to visit her family for a week. When she came back, the dust had usually settled. It was over. Her relationships rarely lasted more than eight months.
Cindy had been a pretty child. She never had an awkward stage or a chubby period or even a cold sore to mar her prettiness. People who met her would say, “You’re so pretty.” She assumed that this was the standard greeting in society and she paid it no mind. To her, pretty never meant lovable. Pretty meant that you were an object like a lamp or a handbag. She drew no comfort from her prettiness. This asset had turned into a liability.
Cindy’s mother, Mary, was a pretty woman, too. She waited too long to get married and had to settle for Jim, Cindy’s father. He made a good living and gave his family all the material comforts. What he couldn’t give them was lovability. He was married to his job. Mary favored Cindy’s sister Ellen who was not a threat to her own prettiness. Ellen could do no wrong. Cindy couldn’t do anything right.
Cindy had no way to prove her worth as a daughter. She never even tried. She hoped she could win her mother’s love and approval by being responsible, helpful around the house, studious and “nice.” Ellen didn’t have to lift a finger. She was the Princess. Cindy was The Cinderella. No one loved Cinderella. Mary was not content to merely neglect her non-royal child. She actively criticized everything she did, condemned her every effort to win favor, crushed her every hope of having a positive relationship with this most important person in her life.
Cindy got the message after about nine years. She couldn’t win for losing, but she didn’t know what she was doing wrong. That made her pain even worse. She had tried everything in the book. It must be some king-sized fatal flaw in her character. Since she couldn’t figure out what it was, there was nothing she could do about it. She was angry at herself for her inability to solve this problem. Her anger turned to depression, discouragement and despair. Since she was a Super Pleaser, she did not dare to show these dismal feelings to the world. She coated them over and pretended to herself that they weren’t down in her stomach eating her up alive. She put her broken heart in splints. She was unlovable. She resigned herself to the fact of her eternal unlovability.
After a few weeks of therapy, Cindy realized why her relationships with men never got to the first anniversary mark. That first disagreement activated the timer on the time bomb in her soul. She perceived it as a harbinger of abandonment. It brought up her festering doubts about relationships with people who have the power to tear her heart out. It proved that her man didn’t love her for herself, only for the prettiness of her external surface. She was still an object, and an unlovable one at that.
Cindy had no experience with love and happiness. These were foreign to her upbringing. They were Ellen’s role, not hers. She could not anticipate successful outcomes, only disastrous ones. That first little spat was the first step down the road to distrust, betrayal, heartache, rejection and ultimately psychic desertion. She was on the downhill slide into another victimization at the hands of someone she loved.
It made eminent sense to Cindy to get out sooner rather than later. She couldn’t see anything wrong with the logic of abandoning him before he could abandon her! It hurt less that way. At least she could control that, if nothing else in the relationship.
Cindy hadn’t accepted her unlovability so much as she had resigned herself to it. She had “solved” the problem of how to live her life in a world with no hope of love. She had locked herself into a program of selfless dedication to the pleasing of other people before she was twelve years old. At 32, she was stuck with the decisions that had been made for her by the pubescent outcast she used to be. She had to break out of the prison she had built for herself.
Cindy had done such a good job of devoting herself to the service of others that she had lost herself in the shuffle. There was no Cindy there. She was a paper thin shadow of the person she was supposed to be. No wonder men couldn’t love her for herself. There was no self there to love! By pleasing, Cindy hadn’t relieved her pain at all. She had merely pushed it below the surface and then pretended it wasn’t down there. She was beginning to see that her way of solving the vulnerability problem was counter productive. She was pleasing everyone at her own expense, and the people she was pleasing were not really her friends. They were, most of them, just taking her for what they could get, and she was letting them. She didn’t have the right not to. It was a one way street. It was unfair. It made her angry. But she couldn’t express it openly. She was stuck. It was her unresolved, unexpressed anger that was causing her to have this trapped feeling. We say, when your anger is trapped, you are trapped. It’s a package deal.
Unlovability is painful but, as we have said, it is not the ultimate source of her pain. It is merely the symptom of something wrong further down. Cindy, couldn’t get any one to love her because she didn’t love herself. Her mother’s vindictive abuse had prevented her from respecting herself as a valuable, beloved child. Mary held her child in the same contempt she held herself, and Cindy followed her lead. Mary and Cindy had one thing in common: they both held Cindy in contempt.
Cindy takes this feeling of self-contempt wherever she goes. How can anyone love her if she does not love herself? All the pleasing and placating in the world will not relieve this deeper pain of feeling worthless, useless and powerless to do anything about it.
The antidote then, is not to get people to admire Cindy for her creativity, her intelligence, her friendliness. These are all nice qualities, but they did not change the way she felt about herself. They only prolonged her pain and prevented her from realizing that she was spending years of her life barking up the wrong tree.
In her counseling, Cindy learned some things about problem solving that she had never learned before. She learned that it isn’t selfish to focus her energies on herself for a change. Specifically, it is not selfish to make herself happy. Cindy had imagined as a child that, if she pleased others, they would be happy and please her in return. It never occurred to her to ask, “Why would they want to please someone who didn’t love herself, who did not have an independent existence of her own?” Very few twelve-year-olds ask themselves that question.
Cindy needed a major overhaul. Many of the beliefs and attitudes she acquired in childhood were mistaken and had to be thrown out. They had to be replaced with more realistic, appropriate attitudes in the present. We told Cindy that she deserved to be happy, just like anyone else. She could believe that intellectually, but not emotionally where it counts. Her therapy consisted of bridging the gap between intellectual insight and emotional insight.
It’s true that Mary had invalidated her child’s sense of self-worth with her destructive criticizing. It is also true that Cindy carried on the process of self-invalidation into the present. She had also been negating her anger at her cruel mother all these years. She hadn’t realized that in negating this fundamental part of her personhood, she was, in effect, negating all of it. In denying her (displeasing) anger at her mother, she was denying her validity as a whole person in her own right. The first step in affirming herself as a worthwhile human being was to stop playing games with her anger.
Her assignment was to do just the opposite of what she had been doing to herself for 20 years. She was to affirm her anger at this woman in broad daylight! Getting in touch with her anger at Marge was hard enough. Admitting that her anger was legitimate after all these years of blaming herself was even harder. But, now that she had summoned up this ancient rage, she found she had already accomplished the hardest part of getting rid of it!Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
One behavior that is open to self respecting, lovable people is the appropriate expression of their anger. They can express their anger in mature, appropriate ways, and then kiss and make up. The unlovable, unself-respecting person cannot do any of the above. That became Julia’s Homework: to do something she had never done before, something drastically inconsistent with her old way of moving through life, something that will “break the Sound Barrier” of her old attitudes and release her.
One day, after a month of therapy, Julia found an opportunity to express her anger appropriately for the first time. She told the truth: she did a Homework in her own behalf.
Julia: “Mom, do you remember last week when you said that my new, green dress made me look like puke?”
Mom: “Yeah. What of it?”
Julia: “Well, you hurt me terribly when you said that. I thought it was such a pretty shade of green, and I really hoped you would like it.”
Mom: “Well, I didn’t.”
Julia: “You don’t like anything I do, Mom, and I guess I should have given up on you a long time ago, but it makes me very angry when you criticize me that way.”
Mom: “Well, you make me plenty angry too!”
Julia: “I know I do, Mom, and I’m sorry. But let’s not change the subject. I’m still angry at you for hurting my feelings in front of everybody last week. I wish you wouldn’t criticize me like that, because I don’t like to be angry at you.”
Mom: “Well, maybe it was a bit much. You didn’t look that bad. But you’ve always made it so easy for me to criticize you. You’re such a safe target. God knows I can’t criticize your brother. He can’t take it like you can. But that doesn’t make it right, and I guess I’m sorry I hurt your feelings.”
Julia: “Mom, that’s the first time you ever apologized to me.”
Mom: “That’s the first time you every told me you were angry like a grown-up.”
In counseling, we set an example of problem analysis for our clients to follow. They see their “insolvable” anger problems being broken down into manageable bits and pieces. After a while, clients learn how to apply the procedure to themselves. It is a technique that will serve them in good stead for the rest of their lives. In this case, Julia’s problem was fear. She was afraid that if she expressed anger, which is displeasing, she would be even less lovable than she was already. She would be putting herself on the slippery slope to abandonment, loss of control and annihilation. That’s too scary. She was unwilling to take that risk.
This fear didn’t keep her from getting angry. That’s not the point. She got angry all the time. She was just precluded from understanding it and managing it in a civilized manner. Her mismanaged, out-of-control anger served to maintain and perpetuate her dependency, her unlovability, her anger and her self-contempt.
The Homework she did with her mother had nothing directly to do with lovability as such. To us, Julia’s complaint that she felt unlovable was only the presenting problem on the surface. Below the surface, we look for the self-anger and self-contempt that give rise to the surface complaints. Julia’s Homework had the effect of giving her a success experience in this very sensitive arena of her relationship with her mother. She was able to express her anger in the middle ground between erupting like a volcano and seething inside for weeks. She gave herself relief from the pressure, tension and stress of the anger situation. She experienced feelings of accomplishment, success and confidence that she could do it again. She was in control. She made it happen. She was living her life independently in the present on her own valid terms. These are all components of self-respect, the specific antidote for a lifetime of self-anger and self-contempt. She had the feeling that she was a worthwhile human being in spite of her faults and imperfections. On the new basis of self-respect, she could feel she was as lovable as anyone else, and that she deserved to love and be loved. After she did her Homework, Julia felt all of these components of self-respect. Even if her mother’s vindictive criticisms were valid, which they weren’t, she would have been worthwhile in spite of them. She was only the imperfect child of an imperfect mother. She could respect herself in spite of it.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
A feeling of being unlovable is the attitude that one is not now, never has been and never will be lovable to any member of the same or opposite sex. This feeling can be a cancer of the personality, a mental melanoma and a malignancy of the spirit. These maladies can be fatal if allowed to remain undiagnosed and untreated, as they usually are. A feeling of being unlovable is a facet of self-contempt. Without love, or even the hope of love, life is hardly worth living.
We aren’t born feeling unlovable. We start out feeling no more and no less lovable than any one else. Then something happens to take away our birthright, our right to love and be loved as an equal member of the human race.
Julia, Early Recollection
“I was about five. I always tried to be a good girl, but I was always being punished for something. I remember one night my mother was holding my little brother on her lap. I wanted to sit on her lap too. She said, ‘Go away. Can’t you see I’m holding the baby!’ I had done something wrong again, but I didn’t know what.”
It is apparent now to Julia that what she did “wrong” was to be born female and to want her mother’s love. From this incident and countless others, Julia learned that males like Bobby are lovable; females like herself are not. The question arises to consciousness for the first time: “If my own mother won’t or can’t love me, who will?” The inevitable answer to that rhetorical question is: “No one.”
This phenomenon is called “rejection” in the therapy trade, but a more appropriate label from the child’s standpoint would be “annihilation.” The child feels that her validity as a person in her own right has been shattered; she may as well cease to exist. Since she doesn’t really know how to stop contributing to her own despair, the whole problem is insolvable. These “feelings” become the attitudes that Julia carries with her into adulthood, and these mistaken attitudes predispose her to behave in ways that are not appropriate to the reality situation. In certain circumstances, these attitudes will come to the fore, they will “kick in,” and impel her to say and do things that will be inappropriate and counter productive. They will make no sense to her partner. She will think, feel and behave as if these attitudes were rational and valid. She will not question them even after several re-enactments of the same scenario. She will not learn from her negative, unhappy experiences. In fact, each disaster will confirm that she is right: she is unworthy to be loved. By the time she grows up, Julia has a whole bunch of inappropriate, self defeating attitudes.
Not only does Julia have the attitude that she is unlovable, but to make things worse, she is convinced that there is no cure for her condition. She is doomed, trapped, beyond salvation. Her condition is terminal. This aspect is a set up for despair, depression and anxiety. The most malignant aspect of this constellation of feelings and attitudes is Julia’s anger at herself. She does not blame her mother for “rejecting” her. Like all daughters, her mother is “perfect” in her eyes. The rejection must, therefore, be her fault!
As an adult, Julia continues to operate out of these attitudes from her childhood. She is deficient in some unknown way, and she is angry at herself for “making herself” so unworthy of being loved. She is a prisoner. Her underlying conviction that she is unlovable predisposes her to behave in ways that will counter productively and self-destructively confirm the “truth” of her conviction. In other words, if she feels unloved she will make others “unlove” her. She works at it until she succeeds at failing.
For example, when some man begins to show in interest in her, she will, sooner or later, remember that she is unlovable and behave accordingly. She cannot believe he can love her. He must be lying. His lie makes her angry. She tests him to break him down, trying to get at the truth. She may make unreasonable demands, display unreasonable jealousy, manifest unreasonable criticality and anger until he gets the hint. When he leaves her, she can say to herself, “I knew it. I knew no one could love me. If he really loved me he would have passed the tests I set for him. But he didn’t; he failed. And so did I.”
It is not terribly difficult to arrange to be unlovable. It is hardly worth doing, but Julia does it anyway. She does not deserve otherwise. Her private logic is as follows:
1.”I am unlovable.
2.”Any man who would love me is obviously ignorant of that fact.
3.”I cannot love or respect anyone that stupid.
4.”Therefore, I have to get rid of him so I can be free to find someone worthy of me.”
And in the end, she confirms her original hypothesis that she:
• is unloved.
• is unlovable.
• is at fault.
• is justified in her ongoing anger at men, at life and at herself.
•can not trust the people who are supposed to love her because they can hurt her the most!
• is out of control and cannot make things happen in the real world.
• has no hope of happiness in this life.
She still doesn’t know how to solve the problem. In addition to being a prescription for depression and anxiety, this constellation of attitudes is a prescription for self-contempt, which is more than just the absence of self-respect. Julia can not respect anyone who is as unlovable as she seems to be. She can not love herself or allow anyone to love her until she identifies and removes her self-anger and her self-contempt. Her discouragement has rubbed off on those self-respecting candidates who might have made her happy. In their absence, she must content herself with men who are unworthy of her and also unable to love her because they do not love (respect) themselves. She finds herself trapped in an impasse: The men she wants she doesn’t get; the men she gets she doesn’t want!” She marries someone because he asks her. Their relationship cannot be happy because two such unself-respecting people are negatively compatible. They can only fulfill each other’s negative expectations.
A person like Julia, given her attitude that she is “unlovable,” must find her own special way of moving through life:
1.In her discouragement, she may withdraw into meanness and isolation.
2.She may marry an unloving man who will see to it that she doesn’t get any “undeserved” love.
3.She will take out her unhappiness on her daughter, thus insuring an unbroken cycle of misery leading to misery.
4.She may spend her life giving selflessly to others, never seeking (or getting) any love in return.
These “choices” represent her solutions to the problem of her unlovability. They will form the backbone of her lifestyle. But they are not conscious choices, at all. They are the mindless derivatives of her negative attitudes from the past.
The antidote to this syndrome is not to “rescue” such persons and shower them with tons of catch-up love. Love is very nice but it is not enough. It is also inconsistent with their expectations of life. They cannot trust it. That is why, in many cases, love is not the answer. These badly wounded individuals need more basic restorative procedures before they can tolerate the shock of positive affection. Some of them resigned themselves to a loveless existence long ago. They have put their human need for love and affection on the back burner. They have sealed it off as unfulfillable so it won’t hurt so much every day of their lives. But the pain of it is still down there.
Sufferers from this syndrome must be rebuilt from the ground up. First, they must be given an identity as a person in their own right, which is what they had before some mindless, unloving grown-up took it away from them. Second, the individual must be helped to feel that, as a worthwhile person with an identity of her very own, she “deserves” to be loved after all. Her resistance to such a notion: must be overcome. She has felt “guilty,” worthless, and inferior all her life. These negative attributes preclude the feeling that she is lovable or deserves to be loved. If these attributes are taken from her too abruptly, she won’t know who she is.
Third, the individual must be helped on the long, painful journey towards loving (respecting) herself, a concept that has, so far, been entirely foreign to her experience and her lifestyle. How can she love someone a mother couldn’t even love? It would be an act of disloyalty to do so. It would defile her mother’s memory! It would be a crime and she would feel guilty. Until she replaces these mistaken attitudes in the right way, she will not be able to relieve her painful, joy-killing guilt. There are many such impediments on the road to positive self-regard.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
There are people who have given up trying to understand. They also have childhood recollections. Laura (age 4). “I remember one Christmas Eve, sitting on the floor with my parents and my brother. Santa Claus, wearing a mask, was passing out presents. It was our next door neighbor, Chester. I remember thinking that it was smart of me to figure out who he was, but I felt sad. It meant that there was no Santa Claus.”
In this recollection, Laura’s happiness at understanding what was going on is followed immediately by sadness and regret. She was sorry that she had solved the mystery. She experienced a loss of innocence. She had become cynical. Things weren’t what they seemed to be. People were deceptive and couldn’t be trusted.
Laura is now newly married. She wants to understand her husband and herself. At the same time, she is aware of a deep down feeling of discouragement. “What’s the use of understanding. I’ll only lose out in the end.” She remembers feeling this way throughout her school years and also in her adult relationships. She felt trapped in a conflict between wanting to understand what was going on and not wanting to be disappointed by finding out too much. There was no way that she could resolve this conflict, of which she was barely aware.
Laura solved the problem by doing her homework. She found her husband, Hank looking at pornography. She went into a rage. She realized at the time that she was overreacting. She just did not know why. The issue wasn’t one of morality, or faithfulness to his new bride, but something else. It was Laura’s doubt as to her attractiveness. She had always been attractive, but her last boyfriend made a point of comparing her constantly to other women who were prettier than she was. After three years of this abuse she left him, but the damage was done. Her former confidence in her appearance was shattered.
Hank had trouble believing that his pretty wife felt unattractive and threatened by these cardboard dollies. He defended his right, under the law, to ogle ladies that he did not even know. Laura calmed herself down. She did something that was very hard for her to do, she took the risk of telling Herb what she wanted him to do. She dropped the power struggle over who could prevent whom from reading what. Instead, she talked about her own human need for reassurance. She just wanted to know that she was attractive to him. All she was asking for was a kind word of reassurance now and then. Hank did not betray her trust in him, nor did he ridicule her as she had expected him to do. He saw her as an imperfect human being not as a dependent weakling.
Laura felt much better after confessing her needs to Hank. She felt relief, control, identity and independence. She felt liberated from her childhood cynicism and distrust. She felt that she had used good judgment in deciding to trust Hank with her need for his help. She felt smart enough to make positive changes in the present. She felt confident that she could reach out to Hank again and secure his cooperation in the future.
Furthermore, the issue of attractiveness had become irrelevant. As a self‑respecting human being, she was no more and no less attractive than anyone else. She was attractive enough.
This “homework” opened Laura’s eyes. She understood Hank as an imperfect human being, not as a tower of strength to depend on forever. She also understood her own human imperfections. She was able to replace her old, negative attitude toward understanding with a more encouraging one. Understanding was no longer a liability, it had become an asset. As a worthwhile human being, she deserved to understand and to use her insights for positive purposes in the future.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
We are all children of anger. The anger of adults had an impact on the formation of our personalities before we reached the age of reason. To a greater or lesser degree, the anger of our parents taught us things about ourselves and about life that we have never unlearned. Most of the lessons we learned were not positive ones. They did not make us stronger and more competent to cope with the realities of our adult lives. They undermined us and impaired our ability to see the world as plainly as we needed to see it.
“Accounting” can be defined as the felt need to explain, justify and account to people who do not need to be accounted to, for things that do not need to be accounted for. It is a form of overcompensatory, self‑indulgent mischief. As with most mischief, this foible can be understood in terms of its underlying purposes:
Super‑responsibility: Some individuals feel that it is their responsibility to insure that other people are properly informed and understand fully what is going on. They are often mistaken. People say to them, “Why are you telling me this?” Their purpose isn’t “to inform,” as they often tell themselves. That sounds like a legitimate, positive purpose. Their true purpose is to keep from feeling irresponsible if they do not succeed in telling everybody everything. This is a negative purpose. It has nothing to do with the demands of the reality situation.
Control: Unself‑respecting individuals feel that they can prevent bad things from happening by explaining their position to others in advance. “That way, there won’t be any unfortunate misunderstandings, and the bad things won’t happen.” The individual mistakenly defines “control” in terms of “knowing.” If people do not know, they cannot cooperate with them in preventing these bad things from happening. These individuals feel inadequate to cope with life. Their only hope is to prevent bad things from happening so that their secret inadequacies won’t be exposed.
Guilt: Unself‑respecting persons may be carrying a load of fictitious guilt from childhood. They want to avoid the pain of any additional guilt in the present. They even want to prevent people from thinking that they’re guilty through a “misunderstanding” of their motives. If they can justify their behavior to them, through elaborate, lengthy accountings of their behavior and purposes, they won’t think that they’re guilty of anything. Thereby, they hope to escape the punishment that is the lot of guilty people. Once again, their purpose is negative and self‑serving.
Pleasing: The pleasing individual wants to avoid displeasing the people upon whom they depend for approval and validation of their worth as a person. To make sure that there are no potentially displeasing “misunderstandings,” they feel compelled to account for any behavior that might be perceived by them in a negative light. Their purpose is to prevent displeasing, because it leads to rejection, humiliation, abandonment and victimization. This, in turn, leads to the painful confirmation of their self contempt.
Purity: The individual may, in the name of perfection, require that their motives and behavior be “pure”; that is, uncontaminated by selfish considerations, which, of course they are. They imagine that others require this purity of them as well, and that they will be punished in the present, as they may have been punished by their parents or teachers in the past, for their “failure” to live up to their impossibly high standards.
Their accountings can be understood as their way of re‑ establishing their perfect purity in the eyes of their potential judges and juries. “I did not do it to get in good with the boss. I did it because I really thought it would make things better for the whole unit.”
Antidote: The antidote to accounting is to stop accounting. Self‑respecting persons can live on their own terms, without excessive reference to the terms of others. They can keep their own counsel, validate their own appropriate behavior and exercise discretion as to what they wish to reveal to others about themselves.
Their homework is to catch themselves the next time they feel compelled to make others understand them. As adults, they can make decisions that they couldn’t make as a vulnerable, dependent child. They can remind themselves that they’re worthwhile human beings whether others understand them perfectly or not. They are free to choose another course of action. They can choose to “let it go.” They can tell themselves, “As much as they understand right now, that is enough. If they have further questions, it is their responsibility to ask me for further elaboration or not. In the meantime, I can choose to stop living in the future and live in the present, instead. As a competent human being, I can take life as it comes, just like everyone else.
The “Accountee” is an individual to whom the accounter accounts. They too, are mischief makers; demanding an account of another human being’s whereabouts is mischief. It does not need to be done. Civilized people request and secure one another’s cooperation in relieving understandable anxiety and concern. The Accountee does not act civilized because they’re not interested in cooperation. They are interested in relieving their own pain at the accounter’s expense. That is mischief.
These Accountees also feel inferior and inadequate. They predict disaster, failure, abandonment, and victimization for themselves. They feel powerless to prevent these scary disasters. They imagine that the answer is to get all the facts in advance so that they can leave town before it hits. In demanding an accounting, they’re not concerned about anyone’s safety but their own.
They define “control” in terms of “knowing,” which includes knowing the future and knowing what their significant other is thinking and planning. Since they can’t ever know these things, let alone know them perfectly, they’re going to feel out of control most of the time. Their anxiety won’t get better, it will get worse.
When their spouse, friends or employees feed their appetite for “information,” they make the mistake of believing that the issue is based on facts. They are feeding their habit, making it real, instead of exposing it for the mischief that it is.
Antidote: The real issues are not the facts, but the painful anxiety that the Accountee is trying to relieve. We can say something to make them aware of what is really going on inside of them. “It’s scary when you don’t know where I am,” or “It makes you angry when that happens, doesn’t it? I’m sorry you are so angry. I know how you feel when you don’t know where I am.” Our example of self control and competence will do more to relieve their anxiety than facts ever will.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Gloria was an understanding child. Her oldest brother would hit her when her mother wasn’t looking, her older sister was manipulative and spiteful and her younger brother was the insatiable, dependent baby of the family. It was Gloria’s task to meet their endless needs. She found her place, with her parents help, as “she who understands everybody and everything.”
Gloria remembers her father saying, “I don’t understand why you do that.” She remembers trying to explain herself to him countless times, but she does not ever remember him saying, “Now I’ve got it. I understand.” Gloria wished that she could make her father understand her better than he did. Maybe he would love her more if she could only straighten out his brains. Understanding was the key to human relationships, it was the road to happiness. Gloria couldn’t solve math problems or fix the drier, but she dedicated herself to solving human problems through understanding.
Gloria’s mother contributed to the formation of this lifestyle, by saying things like, “You have to understand, he’s only a baby.” No one else had to understand, only Gloria. Her mother would also say, “You should be the forgiving one. They don’t understand like you do.” Gloria also remembers her mother saying, “You’ll know what to do.”
Gloria knew what to do most of the time. Life was pleasant for her when she felt adequate to cope with the ups and downs of life. Life was very unpleasant for her when she did not. There was no middle ground. Either she understood or she did not. Gloria thought of running away from her abusive parents, but she reminded herself that she had no place to go. She survived by understanding and excusing their negligent behavior. It was her way of keeping her sanity. Since she couldn’t hold her own in a fight, her recourse was to “understand.” She couldn’t be “bad,” like her siblings, all the bad roles were taken.
Gloria was very competent in her line of work. She volunteered for projects that her co‑workers were afraid to touch. She took pride in her accomplishments, but she needed the approval of others to validate her success. If there was no one around to pat her on the back, it was like the whole thing never happened. In the absence of external validation she felt invalidated. Her goodness was all for nothing. She felt worthless and angry at herself.
Gloria’s biggest difficulties were to be found in the task of love. She had a pattern of gravitating to difficult, controlling men, like her father. In obedience to her mother, she tried to be the “tolerant and understanding” one. The trouble was that she did not understand these men anymore than her mother understood her father. She had gone to lectures and seminars on relationships, but she had never understood her relationship with herself.
Gloria couldn’t solve her own problems of the heart, but she volunteered her “expertise” to her girlfriends, freely and at length. She was on the phone for hours dispensing advice. Her advice giving served two purposes: it justified her existence and it distracted her from the pain of her own loneliness. However, in reality, her role as the understanding child did not give her any extra insight into the intricate workings of the human psyche. It was her way of finding a place in her childhood family, a place that no one else wanted, a place where she could compete without threatening the security of her siblings in their chosen roles. This solution to finding her place did not qualify or equip her to play the “peacemaker” role that she had appointed herself to play. She prided herself on her skill as an understanding neutral party when her friends squabbled. She gave herself credit for keeping the peace, when in reality, the squabble had run its course anyway, and the contenders would probably have made up without her. It was her way of overcompensating for her childhood feelings of inferiority and inadequacy. These people weren’t her friends, they were only using her to get hours of attention that they needed for negative purposes of their own. When she called them for help, they were “too busy.” It was a one-way street.
Gloria thought that “understanding” would be an asset in her journey through life. Often, her native intelligence and talent helped her to get the jobs she wanted and to make the contacts she wanted to make. The problem was that when her intellectual faculties proved inadequate to solve a relationship problem, she took her “failure” personally, as if the other party had no stake in the relationship and had no responsibility for understanding her. After a series of progressively disappointing mishaps, such as a canceled date, an unreturned phone call, a thoughtless remark, Gloria would become discouraged and silently withdraw from the relationship. The friend or lover wouldn’t know what had happened. They wouldn’t understand what went wrong; nor did Gloria. Her failure to solve the problem through enhanced intellectual thought processes had proved fatal. There was no middle ground in which she and her friend could work out their mutual problems through cooperative dialogue. Her “asset” had become a liability.
One of the corollaries of Gloria’s syndrome is her conviction that the understanding must come into her head unaided. In Gloria’s non‑rational system, asking for help from the other person is like “cheating;” it is a form of intellectual “weakness.” Gloria is required by her own rules and regulations, which are below the level of conscious awareness, to figure these things out all by herself. This is her concept of independence and self‑reliance. As a child, she never saw an example of two adults cooperating with each other as equals to arrive at a mutual understanding of each other’s thoughts and feelings. To this day, she confuses cooperation with submission. She cannot ask for feedback or input.
Gloria’s syndrome is an example of a whole class of disorders that center around rational thought processes. She behaves as if “pure reason” could solve any and all of mankind’s problems; as if our reasoning powers existed in a sterile, sanitary brain compartment, free from debilitating emotional contaminants.
Our thought processes do not exist in such a rarified state. Our striving for such ideal states is not a healthy intellectual ambition; it is perfectionism, and we understand it as our way of overcompensating for our feelings of inferiority in the other areas of our existence. It is no more rational or attainable than the anorexic’s dream of being “thinner than thin.” We are striving for unattainable hyper-understanding.
This class of pseudo‑intellectual disorders has no name in our culture. We can’t see what is wrong with striving to be better than we are, while holding ourselves as “not good enough” in the meantime. This disorder includes the delusion that we are rational about our rationality, when we are not. We have feelings about our intelligence and our feelings are not scientific; they’re subjective, inchoate, and non‑rational. It also includes the belief that super-understanders are somehow more human than their less well-endowed brothers and sisters. These beliefs are characteristic of unself-respecting people. The antidote for it is to replace our self-doubt with self-respect.
Gloria’s overcompensatory striving for “understanding” was a negative ambition. It predisposed her to seek out men who would be a “challenge” to her intellectual and psychological expertise. Any man who was easy going and who treated her well was a “nerd,” a pushover. He would be too transparent for her, too easily understood. She had contempt for such men. They did not conform to her father’s stormy, “exciting” model. Gloria went from one abusive relationship to another. She would “understand” these abusers (“He doesn’t mean it. He can’t help himself. He had a hard childhood”) until she couldn’t stand the pain anymore. Even after she left them, she would continue to understand (excuse) their destructive behavior. One “understanding” that she often came to was that the heartbreak was her own fault. She would blame herself for her own victimization. “If only I had been able to make him understand. I must have been stupid. I’ll try harder next time.” It was never enough and it never will be.
Gloria is finally learning to understand herself in a new way. The first thing that she had to learn was that it wasn’t selfish to attend to her own legitimate problems and griefs. She had learned from her mother that she was put on earth to help others, to be happy through enlightenment, and that her happiness would come from her intellectual ministrations on their behalf. She would nurture people, not with food, but with knowledge. She would liberate them from the darkness in which they dwelled. These other people, whoever they turned out to be, were important. The implication was that she was not. The antidote to her painful feeling of relative unimportance is the feeling that she is no more and no less important than anyone else.
Gloria is also learning that “understanding” isn’t infinite and open‑ended. Gloria had been led to assume that her understanding had to be “perfect” or it was no understanding at all. When she failed to understand perfectly, she felt “stupid,” which was her word for feelings of inadequacy to cope.
This striving for perfect understanding had another pernicious effect. It set Gloria up to compare herself unfavorably to women who were successful in their relationships. “What do they know that I don’t know? And why can’t I find out?”
Gloria is learning that these are the wrong questions. They lead her nowhere. Instead, she is learning to stop basing her self‑worth on this singular trait of “understanding” and to begin respecting herself as a worthwhile human being in spite of her faults and imperfections, whether she understands her companion of the moment or not. As a self‑respecting human being, she is liberating herself from her own darkness. She is free to ask, “Why doesn’t he understand me for a change? I’m a person, too.”
These are still difficult concepts for Gloria, but she is getting some practice in this new way of perceiving herself as a person in the world.
One morning, life gave Gloria a chance to do some homework. Her father, critical and crusty as usual, said, “I can’t understand why you can’t get ready for work in an hour like everyone else.” Gloria caught herself about to give her dad the usual lecture about breakfast dishes, “no one to help me out,” earrings, hair spray and all the other irrelevancies that used to constitute her absurd defense against this absurd accusation. She now understood that dad’s grumpy complaint required no accounting at all. She used to answer these questions in good faith, as if they were a valid request for factual information. Her delusion was that if she could get him to understand her position, he would be happier, more tolerant, compassionate and loving towards her as a result. This was a good intention that she had for herself. It never worked.
This time, she chose to shift her gears. She saw her father’s demand for an accounting of her tardiness as the mischief that it was. The issue wasn’t “tardiness,” but his way of bidding for her attention. It had been working for the past twenty years. Since he did not “deserve” his daughter’s positive attention, he could only go for the negative kind. It never made him happy when he got it. This useless habit from the past had no constructive place in the present.
Gloria finally understood herself correctly. She was an independent human being and she wasn’t responsible for trying to make her father understand anything, not that she ever could. She saw that he could defeat her good intention to enlighten him by refusing to understand a word she said. In the meantime, he was getting tons of free attention at her expense. By paying off his mischief, she was perpetuating it.
This time, instead of setting herself up for another failure, she chose to do the unexpected. She disengaged herself emotionally from her dad’s provocative accusation. She freed herself to respond in a different mode. Instead of doing exactly what he expected, namely defend her innocence, she decided to do the unexpected; to agree with him. “You’re right Dad, you don’t.” His jaw dropped. He turned pale and walked to the car sputtering to himself. That had never happened to him before. As an oppositional person, he could only relate to contention. He had no experience with agreement. He did not know what to do, but that was his problem. Gloria knew that he did not understand what had just happened. She did not feel responsible for making him understand; she was free.
Gloria did not feel guilty of the crime of displeasing her father, as she feared she might. She had been living in fear of displeasing him all her life. She was liberated from it now. She wasn’t obliged to protect him from the consequences of his own mischief. She was free to do what pleased her, an entirely new concept for her. She was also free to understand herself, not just from the eyebrows up, but all the way down to her toes.
She found that she wasn’t feeling intellectually superior to her judgmental father, nor intellectually inferior. She felt like an equal member of the human race, no more and no less “understanding” than anyone else. Understanding had ceased to be an overriding concern; she understood that it was only one aspect of human existence. There were many more such aspects out there waiting to be explored.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
« Previous Entries